I actively enjoy ultra running. I got into the sport for the big point-to-point challenges, traversing vast landscapes on foot. I love routes that take me through river valleys, over mountain rocks or across sandy bays. I’m endlessly curious to see around the next corner.
That’s not what I’m going to get in The Tunnel. There isn’t even a temporary sense of somewhere new to visit. The location is local, and I’ve been running there before.
Yet I have signed up to the prospect of running like I have sprung from a mad bobbin, shuttle shuffle suffering for 200 miles of one mile repeats, underground. 200 miles or 50-55 hours of this exercise is more prisoner punishment than anyone’s idea of fun.
But I’m doing it, and I will be striving to finish it. WHY?
There’s an easy answer and a hard one.
The easy answer is the mental journey. This event produces sleep-deprived hallucinations like no other. I’m not susceptible to that, so I wonder if I will be this time, and what my brain might conjure up. I’m even going to try and write a brain-fogged story.
But the harder answer is the stupider one. Many ultrarunners look for extremes, events which few people can complete. Since I was last person standing in a Backyard Ultra, and since I ran 110 miles in 5-mile lockdown loops around my house to ‘win’ Endure 24 when it went virtual in 2020, I have realised that I am mentally capable of dealing with hard repetitive effort. I came through those events unscathed, and I know I haven’t found my limit.
There is nothing fancy about The Tunnel. Just water, snacks and an oppressive toilet at one end. The event embraces the ‘no’. No support, no headphones, no sticks. Also, no weather, no hills, no natural light.
The Tunnel is just the body vs the game. You either succeed or fail. There are no likely mitigating factors, no mud, no sudden steep climbs, no freezing downpours, no briars or brambles, no sun to be struck by. It is early spring, on the flat, indoors, and unrelentingly dark. It doesn’t change, only you do, one step at a time. You either make it or you fail in body, in mind or both.
In its 3 years of being held, only 14 people have completed The Tunnel. With 40 belligerent, determined and competency-qualified starters each year, that’s witheringly small odds. 14 out of 120 or 11%.
That makes The Tunnel VERY likely to push me to my limits. Pushing limits is why Mark Cockbain dreamt it up.
That’s where I want to go – and why.